Memoir writing is not for the faint of heart. It takes courage to sit down at a blank page and begin your stories. It takes courage to write and expose who you are. Be brave and write the story that has been whispering in your ear. Write about your family, your past, and your meaningful moments. Give yourself the gift of beginning your story as you listen to those whispers.
Memoir writers are eager to communicate something significant—lessons learned from life’s challenges, loves lost and found, recovery from an illness, the death of a parent, the joy of birth. Sometimes the memoir is about trauma and its aftermath—how the person grew and became more healed. Some memoirs are serious in tone and others are humorous, with a jaunty view of life’s ironies. Always a memoir is about people—their hopes, dreams, and the casualties of those dreams. A memoir is about winning and losing, fighting and forgiving, about passionate living people who have something special to share with the world. But first the memoirist must sit alone at a computer or a desk. The memoirist must listen to the stories pulsing in the bloodstream.
Many students tell me they want me to push them, to help them create a publishable text from day one. Sometimes they ask me to be harsh to help them get published even more quickly.
You can’t hurry a rose in spring or tomatoes in the summer. Writing is organic like that too. It takes time and thought and careful watering and cultivation. Writing groups, writing time, support, and writing classes all help feed and water the memoirist.
Begin with Passion
Start anywhere. Start with a scene, a memory, a significant moment and capture it words as fast as you can. Write without stopping for 10 minutes. Write what you know, what you remember, what you feel. Write from the heart and the mind. Write what you believe in strongly. Write your story the way you see it. Let your voice be strong, let your voice speak on the page.
A writer needs time and encouragement. You need to follow the inner voice that beckons you to “Write your story.”
Don’t be stopped by the inner critic or outer critics, whoever they may be. You have to want to write. You must do most of the work alone, by yourself, without anyone but yourself remembering. You need to confront a blank page and fill it up quickly and without going back to edit.
Writing groups can be helpful. They can help you stay “in process” and not get distracted or impatient about attaining your goal. They keep you learning and curious and open. It helps to have a leader who understands the demands of writing a memoir, how it differs from fiction writing. There is no place to hide when writing a memoir. You can’t say, “This is not true.” In a memoir you are saying, “This is true and it’s my truth.”
Writing a publishable memoir is a complex emotional work is a process that takes time, support, patience, and understanding. The first step is to write your passionate story. After that you can get help with editing and getting published.
Your memoir will teach you about yourself. It will make demands on you. Get in the flow of your own creativity and listen to the stories that beckon you.
Get out your pen and begin.
*Make time to write every day, or at least four times a week.
*Don’t tell family you are writing a memoir—it tends to make them nervous.
*Write in a journal every day to download your mind from its tangles. You can make plans for your memoir in your journal, make a list of what you want to write about. Use your journal as process to help you uncover the stories you want to write.
*Annie Lamott in Bird by Bird says to be okay with the “shitty first draft.” Allow your writing to be imperfect and messy. All authors write badly at the beginning and then go through dozens of edits. Your first draft needs to allow your right brain to be creative and playful.
*Write vignettes and then quilt them together. How long is a vignette? It can be a paragraph or 5-10 pages. It is a small story.
*Make a timeline of your stories. A memoir is not the story of your whole life—that is autobiography. Focus on your themes, spin them out, write small sketches or lists.
*Good luck with your memoir!